I want to say my passion for book publishing is because I have always loved to read, but that is just not true. When I was growing up, my family pretty much exclusively spoke Spanish, so when I started first grade and was asked to learn to read in English—a language that already felt out of place on my tongue—it was a BIG no from me. I hated it. It took me longer than the other kids to read a Magic Tree House book, and I was embarrassed, which put me off reading for pleasure for years. It wasn’t until sixth grade when I had an amazing English teacher—Shout-out to Emily! I went to a hippy-dippy middle school where we called our teachers by their first name—that I finally enjoyed reading.
I studied poetry in college and worked a handful of odd publishing jobs around New York. Through both good and bad experiences in that world, I developed a genuine passion for promoting work by both new and underrepresented writers. I was always That Person telling my friends, “You need to read this new book! You need to read this new poem!” Yelling about new books is fun, you know? It’s a celebration, which, for me, always felt like a natural extension of being a super nerdy reader. So when I applied to graduate schools and Emerson’s publishing program offered me a funded spot, I leapt at the chance to explore publishing outside of New York. After that, my path became a little circuitous.
While reading The Condemnation of Little B by Elaine Brown for a class, I saw that Beacon had published it and remembered a friend telling me about the organization and her great experience interning at Beacon. The Condemnation of Little B is one of the best and one of the most unorthodox books I have ever read. It combines memoir, investigative journalism, and history into a cohesive and rousing book, detailing the societal and historical events leading up to the arrest and incarceration of Michael Lewis. I knew that any publisher willing to publish such an unusual book with such pointed critiques of typically deified historical figures was exactly the type of publisher I wanted to work for.
I only realized publishing was a career path much later in my life—halfway through my undergrad degree in business administration, in fact. I’d always been a creative kid, but I never realized that the books I hoarded so ardently could be something that I could actually dedicate a career to. I finished up that business degree and went on to an apprenticeship program in an academic publishing house, where I trained in all their departments: editorial, production, accounting, etc. I was senior marketing executive there by the time I left, four years later, to do my masters in publishing at Emerson College.
I’ve always had a passing interest in publishing going as far back as my last couple years of high school when I joined (and then became the editor in chief of) my high school newspaper. And then when I was in college, I became a staff writer at our college paper in my first year and worked my way up to copyeditor in my last couple of years while working part time as an assistant at a boutique publishing house.
When I was looking for my first job in 1989, I knew I wanted to work in Boston but hadn’t decided on a specific career path. I applied to be an administrative assistant at several companies and chose Houghton Mifflin, partly because my grandfather had worked for the company in the 1930s as a printer operator. I was drawn to the legal and financial aspects of the business and worked in various roles that helped me further my career with the company and later to run my own freelance publishing services business. I kept in touch with many of my wonderful colleagues, including Cliff Manko.
It was a really long process for me! I was an English major in college. I loved reading and doing research, but I didn’t like sitting down and writing so I didn't consider a career in publishing. I went on to work in documentary production, but I found it too hard to make a living as a freelancer. I seriously considered becoming a librarian, but I realized that I wanted to be involved in some way with making books. So, I enrolled in the publishing certificate program at Emerson.
I was an English major in college and worked on online publications and art journals while there, because I wanted to be directly involved with spreading the good word of the works that I thought were important. I always knew I would be in publishing in some capacity after realizing I can manage paper deadlines, print deadlines, and still having that passion and drive to work on projects long term. I was a publicity intern at Beacon my last semester in college, and then I stayed on as an editorial intern after graduating and I’ve never left.
I’ve always wanted to work in book publishing once I realized it was a possible career. I interned at a few different publishers in college and loved it. I knew it was a super competitive field, and someone at my college’s career office even told me it was too competitive for me and that I shouldn’t really bother trying to break in, but I knew what I wanted to do, so I worked really really hard to make it happen. My first job was at Cornell University Press in the acquisitions department, which was great, but I really enjoyed the marketing aspects of my job the most and wanted to move back to Boston, so that’s how I ended up here! My official title is associate marketing manager and I do lots of different things: academic marketing, conferences, advertising, creating promotional materials like postcards or bookmarks, drafting marketing plans, and managing our internship program.
I studied English and Religious Studies in college but didn’t know what I wanted for my career. I fell into hospitality management for several years after graduating. I loved working for the boutique hotel I managed but was ready for a change. Despite my best efforts to avoid any and all math courses in school, I realized while working that I enjoyed and wanted to expand on the accounting and business administration skills I had acquired. Working in the business department for Beacon Press felt tailor-made to my interests.
I had a roundabout path to where I am now. I went to a STEM magnet high school and worked at the Army Research Lab in the microphotonics department and figured I would be an engineer. I entered college as an engineering major and minored in art. The whole while, I wrote articles as a student reporter. In high school I was the news editor of our school paper and in college I was a staff reporter for the campus paper. The Asian American Student Union published a newspaper, and the editor-in-chief contacted me for help. I wrote a few pieces and became the editor-in-chief for the next two years. Halfway through my junior year, I switched majors and I graduated with a BA in journalism and a minor in art and worked in a newsroom of a paper and as a writer for a magazine—and found that I was good at layout and composition and went to grad school for design.
I was amazingly lucky. I’d been associate publisher at Farrar, Straus and Giroux when we were distributing Beacon, so I got to “help out” with some of their books, including best-selling books by Marian Wright Edelman and Cornel West. When my predecessor left, the search committee came knocking at my door. I just happened to know one of them, Roger Straus III, so maybe the fix was in. But it was the amazing Kay Montgomery, executive vice president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, who really settled me in and supported me for the next seventeen years. I’ve never recovered from her abandonment (well, yes, she retired after more than twenty-five years at her job…).
Finishing my last year of undergrad, I had the intention of becoming a high school teacher of Spanish and French. The pedagogy courses I took, however, convinced me that I didn’t want to teach after all. On top of that, I had to pay my way through college on my own, and when you’re competing in the Student Debt Olympics, year after year, you reconsider taking on a job that would barely cover rent and the cost of that luxury called food. I had to think of something else.
I always thought I was going to be a Professor and had just finished my Masters in Cultural Anthropology from The New School for Social Research. My thesis was on the role of the Indian government in perpetuating the AIDS pandemic, and as passionate as I was about it, I wasn’t sure I wanted to make the PhD commitment. Around this time, I happened to spend time in India with my uncle, Sonny Mehta, a longtime publisher who tossed out, “Why not try an internship in publishing and see what happens?” I did, and it changed my life.
It begins the same way all these stories do: I’ve loved books all my life. I started working in a bookstore in college (shout out to Left Bank Books in St. Louis!), and there I realized that as long as I could make some kind of living working with books, that’s what I wanted to do. I wound up working there for almost seven years in all before moving to Boston. Once here, I very fortuitously got a job at Harvard Book Store, but was ready to shift to the other side of the bookish curtain when a sales position opened up at Beacon. The skills and knowledge I’d picked up through years of bookselling lined up with what I needed to know here, and it’ll be five years this summer since I started, though I’ve hopped over to our production team since then.
My career in books started in the spring of 1976 when I was working at a Volkswagen dealership in Nashua, NH, doing state inspections, lube and oils, and washing the boss’s Porsche. I was not well suited to the work, and noticed I felt most at home in the nearby Paperback Booksmith, where I went on breaks. I walked in one evening after work and begged the manager, Jim Fudge, for a job. Not sure what to make of me, he offered me a shift on the register at $3.00 an hour, but only on Wednesday nights. I was thrilled. Being paid to work in a space full of books and records instead of lug wrenches or snow tires seemed like a good move. Forty-two years later, I can say that it was.
I’m sure my answer is true of 99.9% of us in this business: I am a life-long reader and lover of books! I can’t remember not reading. Every trip to the library or bookstore was magic and memorable for me. I looked forward to English class in school like none of my other subjects. I was an English and sociology major, and then did my graduate degree in library science. I knew I would be involved with books somehow. I worked in educational publishing for the first fifteen years of my career. I was always most drawn to the projects that felt they were directly serving the greater good, so when the position opened up at Beacon, I was thrilled at the opportunity to spend my days working with two of my greatest passions: books and social justice.
It’s a really corny thing to say, but I think I wanted to work in publishing before I even knew it was a thing. When I was about eight, my parents gave me a book for Hanukkah called Conversations with J.K. Rowling. In the front flap they wrote, “Maybe someday there’ll be a book called Conversations with Ayla Zuraw-Friedland!” And I (probably) said, “Yep, that’s it.” That book doesn’t exist, because I have not yet written a book, let alone a dozen-ish bestsellers, but I sure do like helping bring other peoples’ books into the world.
A typical day involves reading and copyediting manuscripts or parts thereof, so editing for style, sense, and grammar, while maintaining the author’s style and intention. When I’m not doing that, I’m corresponding with authors about language and usage (sometimes deadlines), overseeing (that’s the managing part) the work of the wonderful freelancers who also copyedit manuscripts for us, spending quality time with The Chicago Manual of Style, reviewing edits with editorial and production staff. Then I read some more.
I thought I’d continue in academia but realized in grad school that I didn't like teaching, so faced with student debt and with no idea how to channel my love of books and my interest in social justice, I considered a number of different careers before I noticed an opening at Beacon Press. I’d been a longtime fan of Beacon and jumped at the chance to work as an editorial assistant. Needless to say, publishing was the right career path.